The Fifth Element #24 Page 2

On the Obelisk, the faces of the pyramid or roof are symmetrical, and hold 1.5" dome midrange/tweeters firing back and front, and four 3/8" supertweeters firing to the four compass points. The Obelisk's roof is part of the same enclosure as the bass unit, and there is only one set of binding posts.

With the Hawk and the Diapason, Shahinian moves into modular designs. The bass modules are separate from the elongated-pyramid roofs, which rest on the flat tops of the bass modules. The midrange and treble drivers can be connected to the terminals of the bass modules by short umbilical speaker cables, or the units can be biwired or biamped.

Each Hawk uses four 4.5" midrange drivers, two each pointing front and rear, and four 1" tweeters, one on each face of the pyramid. Unlike the Obelisk, the Hawk's roof has unequal rakes front and rear, the rear face being more vertical. The Hawk bass module uses an 8" woofer and 10" passive radiator, but the woofer is not the same as the Obelisk's (it has a much larger motor structure), and is in a larger enclosure, with a claimed -3dB point of 25Hz. The Obelisk's retail price is $4000/pair; the larger, more complicated Hawk goes ka-ching at $8100/pair.

The Diapason is even more complex (footnote 4) Each top uses four 5.25" midrange drivers, two each pointing front and rear; two 1.5" dome upper-midrange drivers, one each pointing front and rear; two ¾" low tweeters, one each pointing front and rear; and six 3/8" supertweeters. Yes, that's 14 drivers per side.

There's more. Each Diapason bass module contains two separate transmission lines (which is why the Diapason bass module is called the Double Eagle), each with the same 8" woofer and 10" passive radiator as in the Hawk. Doubling up the larger enclosure from the Hawk results in a claimed -3dB point of 23Hz. The ka-ching point for a pair of Diapasons is $13,000, which, in today's world of dozens of loudspeakers costing more than $30,000/pair, going all the way up to $100,000-with-a-straight-face per pair, seems almost miserly.

I had initially asked for a pair of Diapasons because, since the last time I'd had Diapasons in the house, their woofer module had been revised. As it turned out, demand was far outstripping supply, but a pair of Hawks was available. The Hawks were the only speakers in the Shahinian line I had not already had extensive experience with. "Sure," I said.

Set up on its feet, the Hawk is 37.5" high, 17" wide, and 13" deep; the combined weight of the bass and upper modules is 80 lbs. My review samples arrived in light genuine oak veneer, with black grilles on the woofer and the roof.

The first issues confronting a new Hawk owner are amplification and wiring. I had requested back from JA the exceedingly scrumptious darTZeel NHB-108 amplifier, both for the Hawks and for another speaker that has not yet arrived. I was very pleased with the darTZeel's overall performance with the Hawks—the combination filled the room with sweetly layered, dimensional music, and could play louder than the room acoustics and my comfort level indicated was sane. However, the darTZeel's 100Wpc, which does not double into 4 ohms, was perhaps not the optimal match for Shahinian's bass loading—though the idea of biamping with darTZeels is very tempting!

Seeing as I was using just one stereo amplifier, and one that had only single terminal pairs at that (Euro-Nanny terminals, come to think of it), I decided to run speaker cables to the bass modules from the amp, and then use short runs of cable from the bass-module terminals to the upper-module terminals. In the event, I used the ultra-spiffy Stereovox speaker cables (I know—they cost almost as much as the Hawks do) to run to the bass modules, and Nordost Valkyrja to run from the bass modules to the top.

For a digital source, I had finagled the return of TEAC's Esoteric D70/P70 transport and DAC combination. That duo reaffirmed itself as providing the best "Red Book" CD playback I have yet heard. I think you had better buy them before Esoteric changes its mind and stops making them. The connection from the Esoteric DAC to the darTZeel amp was made by Stereovox's new balanced cables, with proprietary Xhadow XLR connectors. They sounded glorious.

The speaker terminals on both modules of the Hawks are located so as to minimize their visual intrusiveness, but this has the effect of limiting cable options. The bass terminals are on the underside of the bass module, with the binding posts themselves set at a 45 degrees angle to the floor. (Clearance is provided by the bass modules' approximately 2"-high, hard-rubber legs.) Furthermore, the terminals appear to be spaced closely for double banana-plug connections. Didn't those go out of fashion at about the time Jimmy Carter was having The Captain and Tennille serenade Queen Elizabeth with "Muskrat Love"? But I digress.

The situation is even more limiting at the upper module, in that there is less clearance, and the connections are not binding posts; they accept only banana plugs. Perhaps to avoid accidental disconnection, the banana receptacles face front (but at the same 45 degrees downward angle). This means that, to exit rearward, your speaker cable must be able to make a 135 degrees bend in a space less than 1" high. Some will be able to, some won't. Fortunately, I have always found Nordost cables to be a very synergistic match with Shahinian speakers, and Nordost's Valkyrja speaker cables were sufficiently thin and flexible to serve in this application.

In search of even more bass wallop, I substituted Plinius' overachieving model 9200 integrated amplifier ($3500) for the darTZeel. Although the much less expensive Plinius did not quite equal the darTZeel's sweet treble refinement, its 175Wpc did surpass the Swiss amp in dynamics and bass extension and control.

Footnote 4: The Diapason was reviewed for Stereophile by J. Gordon Holt in May 1993.—Ed.